Sorcerer – An Epic CrowningTuesday, 21st November 2017
While the doom genre has further morphed into segmentation that include stoner and funeral sub-categories, there’s something to be said for bands willing to develop an epic, melodic take on the genre. Originating during the Dio/Sabbath period through pinnacle releases like Heaven and Hell and The Mob Rules, Candlemass would be another important act to further the cause of shimmer, upper octave melodies blending seamlessly against slower power chord/tempo combinations – as Nightfall and Ancient Dreams gathered faithful followers to the cause. During the late 80’s, Swedish act Sorcerer developed a series of demos in hopes of staking their claim in the epic doom realm – originally together from 1988-1992 before bassist Johnny Hagel left to join Tiamat, effectively putting an end to the group.
Subsequent compilations in that down time (including a CD issued by Brainticket Records head John Perez of Solitude Aeturnus) sparked the interest of a promoter at the Hammer of Doom festival in Germany, leading to a reunion show in 2010. From there the band began writing and developing new material, signing with Metal Blade Records, and enter 2017 with the mighty second full-length The Crowing of the Fire King. The record valiantly strides into terrain rarely heard since those prime Candlemass or Black Sabbath/Tony Martin-era years – sterling, mighty riffs, majestic mountain-top melodies, and grooves plus lead breaks that captivate, all with the advantage of using modern production values to sound punchier and in your face.
Reaching out to guitarist Kristian Niemann, we tackle how he came into this second Sorcerer incarnation, his work with Therion, views on the differences between Sorcerer albums, and their viewpoints on social media/touring opportunities among other topics. And for those new to the game, do not miss out on this second opportunity to take in one of the best releases for this genre not just in 2017, but in our lifetime.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your earliest memories surrounding music growing up? And do you remember the specific situations that turned you on to heavy metal and eventually wanting to play this style?
Kristian Niemann: The first memories would be visiting my grandparents and them having Elvis Presley albums, those were my first memories. My parents also had a lot of Elvis records, but I didn’t think I was going to play music at that time. I was more into sports, especially football (soccer). I got into Kiss and Iron Maiden, Metallica, those kinds of bands. I started kind of late – but then I got into Iron Maiden around 16. That’s when I thought I should start playing some guitar to see how it sounds, and see if it sticks.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you gain the opportunity to be a part of Therion from 1999-2008 – and what are your proudest memories as far as your time with the band in terms of the records or live touring?
Niemann: When I got back from Los Angeles, I studied over there for a couple of years. I hooked up with a drummer, I was into fusion music- got in touch with him via a magazine. That guy was friends with Lars (Sköld), who is in Tiamat and Avatarium right now. One summer, out of the blue that guy called and Lars suggested the drummer. They toured together, and after that tour Tommy Eriksson quit the band. Christopher asked Sami (Karppinen) if he knew any guitar players, and he put my name in. This was in 1999, he invited me down to try out. I was not really playing metal at the time- I grew up playing heavy metal, but when I started at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, I was totally going more towards the fusion style. Sami asked me to listen to Therion, so I looked into Vovin and Theli, and I listened to both and I thought it was very different. The operatic stuff, it wasn’t really my thing at the time, but I came down to the audition and touring has always been a dream for me. I said yes, we hit it off, we played a couple of songs.
Proudest moments- I had many fantastic moments. The record Gothic Kabbalah is the record I am most proud of, I really like that. I can listen to the whole record today and it’s great. We were a really great live band, we played with a lot of energy and I’m very happy with the shows that we did together. My fondest memories are surrounding the live shows.
Dead Rhetoric: Prior to joining the resurrection of Sorcerer, were you a personal fan of their demos and original development during the late 80’s/early 90’s?
Niemann: Nope, I had never heard of Sorcerer. Maybe I had heard of the name, because (vocalist) Anders Engberg was in Therion for a while in 2001 and maybe he mentioned the band, I can’t remember. When (bassist) Johnny (Hagel) asked me in 2010 that they were going to put Sorcerer together again to do this one festival (Hammer of Doom), I can’t say I really knew what it was all about.
Dead Rhetoric: Why do you think it took until 2015 from that original festival appearance reformation for Sorcerer to unleash their debut full-length In the Shadow of the Inverted Cross? And how would you assess the response from a critical and audience perspective?
Niemann: Because we got together in 2010, we did two festival appearances with that lineup, which was Ola Englund on the other guitar. He left us in 2011 as he got a gig with Six Feet Under, and then at that time we were writing material. We wrote the album In the Shadow of the Inverted Cross between Johnny and myself, although Johnny had most of these ideas. We wrote for over a year, and then worked on the record until 2014- we signed with Metal Blade in the fall of 2014 and the record came out in 2015. And the audience reception, when we played that first festival in 2010, was amazing. I had no idea that people were into Sorcerer, we got a really good slot around 8 or 9 o’clock (in the evening) I think. Everyone was singing the songs- and then when we put out the album in 2015, I think the response was really great. The reviews were awesome, and the audience was happy.
Dead Rhetoric: The latest album The Crowning of the Fire King embraces the best of epic doom metal to my ears – carefully crafting tasteful riffs, melodies, harmonies, and songwriting. How do you feel this record stands in comparison to that debut – do you believe having three songwriters along with Anders for the lyrics makes this distinctive in comparison?
Niemann: Yeah, I think it compares very favorably. It’s a bit of a different sound. The first one, the guitars are a bit more distant in the picture, the drums are big and the vocals are big. We didn’t want a huge guitar sound, we wanted to make room for the drums and the vocals. For the new one, our drummer at the time (Robert Iversen) ended up leaving, we had some different visions for where we were going in terms of the production. We got Lars, and he did the session drums. And with Robert, when he was not in the picture anymore, we decided to go for the opposite approach- let’s go for the bigger guitars and a more modern production. The production is bigger, heavier, maybe a little more modern. We were a little bit scared to be honest at how this would be received on this album. It was a bit of a gamble, but I haven’t seen any negative reviews.
As far as the songwriting, I think it’s awesome to have three distinct songwriters. On the last one, Johnny brought in most of the ideas and we just fleshed things out in my own studio. On this record, we worked separately, working on the songs ourselves. Peter’s songs are quite different from mine and Johnny’s – we don’t write as much the complex material compared to Peter’s style. It’s a great thing to have three writers- it’s definitely a plus.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you decide what would make the main album and the special edition with two additional tracks? Does this frustrate you in today’s marketplace you have to create multiple products to boost sales?
Niemann: The record was going to be too long to have ten songs, we knew that from that beginning. We took a vote within the band- choose your favorite songs, we ranked them one to ten. Whichever songs got the most points, that was the album- and the two bonus songs gathered the least amount of points. I think it’s a cool to have some b-sides, I’m not going to blame our record label. It’s just the way it is – I hate labels that release best of records with one new song to get people to buy it.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you divide out the guitar parts and lead breaks between Peter Hallgren and yourself? Where do you see the differences in outlook and playing philosophy for yourself and Peter?
Niemann: A good question. Usually whoever writes the song. On the last album, we divided it out where Peter took five songs and I took these six songs – we would do one rhythm guitar pass on every track. Peter would be on the left, I would be on the right. For all the melodies, there is usually the guy who wrote the song would handle the melodies, all the clean parts, for that song. We met up one evening at my place and went through songs as far as the solos. Peter had some suggestions for his songs, and then we would do the solos, decide where to do the tradeoffs. We tried to divide things out equally, as we both enjoying soloing.
As far as differences in style- he’s such a well-rounded player. He has so much melody- if you listen to the solos back to back, I may be more of a shredder, but I try to play really melodic as well. He’s a master at pulling out melodies and finding the right melody- developing them.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s it like having a younger brother like Johan also successful in the music business through his work with Evergrey? Does it help to bounce ideas and thoughts off of him about all aspects of the business?
Niemann: Um, we don’t really talk about that stuff. When we meet up, we talk about our families and celebrate our kids’ birthdays. We talk a little bit about music- but not so much about our bands, more about what new music we have heard, recommending some cool albums. Neither him or I talk much about the business end of things.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the state of doom metal? Do you ever believe there will be a band in the genre that could ascend to the level of popularity of Black Sabbath again in our lifetime- or will this always be a cult, niche-like appeal sub-genre?
Niemann: Uh, another good question. I would have hoped that Candlemass would have been that band who could really (have) taken over from Black Sabbath and been really huge. I guess they are kind of big, but they are still a sub-genre band. For me, I’m not really the type of person who only listens to doom metal to be as familiar with everything. I know Candlemass of course, and Below because they are our label mates. I teach guitar, I see it too but most kids these days are interested in music that doesn’t really have a lot of guitars, it’s deejay style music. Most kids when they think about music they want to be a producer or a deejay, they aren’t thinking as much about picking up an instrument and performing in a band. Doom will always be a niche thing, and as far as there being anything to replace a Black Sabbath, I don’t think I see that happening.
Dead Rhetoric: How does the band handle social media, when many of the members grew up in an era of tape trading and real time or mail/distribution channels to get their message and music out there?
Niemann: All of us are online except for Peter- he’s too cool for Facebook (laughs). We do as good of a job as we can, people are trying to post stuff on Facebook when we can, updates with pictures or a cool video clip, that’s about it. We need to get better at using Twitter, YouTube, get more information and content out there. The occasional Instagram post, we need to learn more about that and not lag behind.
Dead Rhetoric: If you had to pick three albums that would go down for you in the classic annals of heavy metal history personally, what records would they be and why?
Niemann: Three albums. This is really difficult, I could pick hundreds of albums. I look at my favorite albums today, Dream Theater- Images and Words has always been a cool record. I started playing guitar in 1989 and I got into the first album When Dream and Day Unite, and then this album comes along with a new singer, the saxophone, and it was a bit poppier and I was like, ah… but then I really listened to it and that album is so amazing. There was a band called T-Ride, they released one album in 1992. It’s like ten songs, 30 minutes- it’s very short. The playing, the songs, the production- it was far ahead of anything released at the time and still holds up well today. Those two albums, and then the third one… I could say Iron Maiden- Killers, which was one of the first records I bought. Kiss-Alive is also one of the first things I heard. I like Metallica- Ride the Lightning, any one of those could be my third pick. And also Strapping Young Lad- City back in the late 90’s. I could name fifty more, that is really tough.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you look at your career and life at this point in your 40’s? Are there things left on your bucket list to accomplish, and if so what would you like to do?
Niemann: Hard to say career-wise. I would love to do some more touring, but it’s difficult to do that with a family. I’d love to go back to Japan again, I did that once with Therion. I’d love to tour the states again, I lived in the states for two years when I was in Los Angeles, and then we did a couple of tours with Therion there. Some more touring would be nice. Other than that, I’m happy for sure right now. We are releasing some good music with Sorcerer, and we have great chemistry within the band. I’d love to be playing some bigger festivals too. You can always dream- I just want to play better. Every day be better on the guitar, and write better songs- and anything else that happens is just a bonus. I play locally with some cover bands for fun. When you are in your 20’s you think you can make it big- in our 40’s though, I’m just happy I am healthy, I can play guitar, we are friends.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Sorcerer in support of the new record? Will you be selective in weekend warrior/ festival type spots given the nature of the music and demand to play out?
Niemann: Absolutely, this is what we are going to do. We don’t have any shows booked right now, but we are aiming to go out in the summer and fall of next year to do festivals and weekend shows, as much as we can. We have already started talking about the next record, some ideas for it. We wrote a lot of material for the last one, we have four or five songs that we didn’t get to. Anders had to say stop sending him songs after the first ten. If that will get used, I don’t know- but some of it will probably get looked at. I’m not going to say a time when we will record this and release this, but it’s not going to be another seven years until the next album.